If you’ve been asking the question what is a stress fracture for a little while, you’ll find your answer here. What is a Stress Fracture?
The easiest way to answer the question, what is a stress fracture, is to think about what happens to a new army recruit. Suddenly, the new recruit is getting a lot more exercise than he has had in a long time. He’s doing a lot more marching, walking, and running. He may even be engaged in more jumping activities than he has ever done. All this extra exercise takes a toll on the body. Over-training is a major cause of stress fractures.
If the feet aren’t in perfect condition and are maligned in any way or if the arches of the foot are too high or too low, all that exercise will begin to cause a chain reaction of events in the feet, legs, back and spine.
If you don’t know whether or not your foot arches are okay – not too high or too low, you might be surprised to find out that 40% of the 4000 athletes in one study had flat feet. Twenty to 25% of the athletes had high arches and only 30-35% of the group had normal arches. Thus, it’s important for you to have your arches checked – and something as simple as orthotic arch supports could be easily added to your shoes to correct the problem.
In a study of 295 military recruits, researchers followed them during the 14-week period of new recruit training. A full 33% of the recruits got stress fractures from the stress of the added activity. However, those who had orthotic arch supports had a much lower incidence of developing stress fractures than those without them.
And in yet another study of 180 patients who used orthotic arch supports, 90% of them obtained at least 50% relief while 50% obtained at least a 90% relief in the pain of their lower extremity problem. And 75% of them felt that it improved their running.
It’s not just arch problems that predispose us to stress fractures. Those with a decreased ability to lift the toes towards the leg – a motion called dorsiflexion – are 4.6 times more likely to sustain stress fractures.
And the stress fractures can occur anywhere in the lower extremity. They can be found in the metatarsals, the thin long bones of the toes; in the tibia bone, the fibula, or the femur bone. That’s a lot of potential places for a stress fracture to occur.
When stresses accumulate in an area, combined with overuse or faulty foot biomechanics, there’s a change in what happens physiologically in the bone. Bone has two primary types of cells, osteoblasts and osteoclasts. The osteoblasts build new bone while the osteoclasts break down the bone. You need a proper balance between the bone cells to have strong healthy bone. A higher amount of osteoclasts breaking down the bone can actually lead to the development of osteoporosis.
In stress fractures, the stressed area has increased osteoclastic activity and normal osteoblastic activity. This results in a weakened area of the bone. This is when you’ll get the symptoms of pain and inflammation. After awhile, a callous will form but if the stress continues, you’ll see a fracture. The pain will occur wherever the fracture is.